The first time I read Wild I was on my first backpacking trip in Central America. I had just ended a 5-year-relationship and had no idea what the hell I was doing. It all seems sort of appropriate that this is the time Cheryl Strayed’s incredible story about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail by herself would come into my life. I bought Wild at a bookstore on the way to the Detroit airport and read the entire thing in one sitting en route to El Salvador. I hadn’t gone through the exact same things as Cheryl but her life experiences were similar to mine and her words spoke to me more so than any other book I had read in a long time. I carried that book with me the entire trip.
Since then I’ve read Wild countless times and have become a huge fan of Cheryl’s. When I found out the book was being adapted to the big screen I was so excited for her – not only because I’m truly a fan of her work but because her story is one I think that is so important for women to read. We see so many stories and movies about men going off on their own to explore the wilderness, yet never about the journeys women take alone, especially in a landscape as incredible, rigorous, and unforgiving as the PCT. And furthermore we rarely – if ever – see a woman’s story end happily where she doesn’t have a man or any money. Wild comes out in theaters this weekend and to celebrate the release here are some of the most impactful and introspective lines from the book that will hopefully inspire you to a take a journey of your own someday.
What if I forgave myself? I thought. What if I forgave myself even though I’d done something I shouldn’t have? What if I was a liar and a cheat and there was no excuse for what I’d done other than because it was what I wanted and needed to do? What if I was sorry, but if I could go back in time I wouldn’t do anything differently than I had done? What if I’d actually wanted to fuck every one of those men? What if heroin taught me something? What if yes was the right answer instead of no? What if what made me do all those things everyone thought I shouldn’t have done was what also had got me here? What if I was never redeemed? What if I already was?
How wild it was, to let it be.
The universe, I’d learned, was never, ever kidding. It would take whatever it wanted and it would never give it back.
It only had to do with how it felt to be in the wild. With what it was like to walk for miles for no reason other than to witness the accumulation of trees and meadows, mountains and deserts, streams and rocks, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets. The experience was powerful and fundamental. It seemed to me that it had always felt like this to be a human in the wild, and as long as the wild existed it would always feel this way.
I knew that if I allowed fear to overtake me, my journey was doomed. Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me.
Alone had always felt like an actual place to me, as if it weren’t a state of being, but rather a room where I could retreat to be who I really was.
I never got to be in the driver’s seat of my own life,” she’d wept to me once, in the days after she learned she was going to die. “I always did what someone else wanted me to do. I’ve always been someone’s daughter or mother or wife. I’ve never just been me.” “Oh, Mom,” was all I could say as I stroked her hand. I was too young to say anything else.
I think it’s neat you do what you want. Not enough chicks do that, if you ask me–just tell society and their expectations to go fuck themselves. If more women did that, we’d be better off.
I didn’t get to grow up and pull away from her and bitch about her with my friends and confront her about the things I’d wished she’d done differently and then get older and understand that she had done the best she could and realize that what she had done was pretty damn good and take her fully back into my arms again. Her death had obliterated that. It had obliterated me. It had cut me short at the very heigh of my youthful arrogance. It had forced me to instantly grow up and forgive her every motherly fault at the same time that it kept me forever a child, my life both ended and begun in that premature place where we’d left off. She was my mother, but I was motherless. I was trapped by her, but utterly alone. She would always be the empty bowl that no one could full. I’d have to fill it myself again and again and again.
It seemed to me the way it must feel to people who cut themselves on purpose. Not pretty, but clean. Not good, but void of regret. I was trying to heal. Trying to get the bad out of my system so I could be good again. To cure me of myself.
I set my toothbrush down, then leaned into the mirror and stared into my own eyes. I could feel myself disintegrating inside myself like a past-bloom flower in the wind. Every time I moved a muscle, another petal of me blew away. Please, I thought. Please.
He kissed me hard and I kissed him back harder, like it was the end of an era that had lasted all of my life.
Being near Tom and Doug at night kept me from having to say to myself I am not afraid whenever I heard a branch snap in the dark or the wind shook so fiercely it seemed something bad was about to happen. But I wasn’t out here to keep myself from having to say I am not afraid. I’d come, I’d realized, to stare that fear down, to stare everything down, really — all that I’d done to myself and all that had been done to me. I couldn’t do that while tagging along with someone else.
When I woke the next morning in my room at White’s Motel, I showered and stood naked in front of the mirror, watching myself solemnly brush my teeth. I tried to feel something like excitement but came up only with a morose unease. Every now and then I could see myself–truly see myself–and a sentence would come to me, thundering like a god into my head, and as I saw myself then in front of that tarnished mirror what came was ‘the woman with the hole in her heart’. That was me.